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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Jeremiah 35

 

 

Verses 1-11

Jeremiah Call The Rechabites To A Gathering And Offers Them Wine (Jeremiah 35:1-11).

Jeremiah 35:1

‘The word which came to Jeremiah from YHWH in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, saying,’

Here YHWH had sent His word through Jeremiah ‘in the days of Jehoiakim’. The time note is deliberately general and not specific. It is emphasising that the disobedience being described was common throughout the reign of Jehoiakim.

Jeremiah 35:2

“Go to the house of the Rechabites, and speak to them, and bring them into the house of YHWH, into one of the chambers, and give them wine to drink.”

‘The house of the Rechabites’ may here be the equivalent of ‘the family of’ as it is in Jeremiah 35:3. Or it may refer to the house in which they were living as paralleled with ‘the house of YHWH’, emphasising that the Rechabites were now living in ‘a house’, contrary to their principles. It may have been for this last reason that YHWH put them to a further test so as to demonstrate that they were being loyal to their father’s requirements, in spite of living in a house, for Jeremiah was called on to invite them into the house of YHWH, ‘into one of the chambers’, and there to give them wine to drink. There were many side chambers in the court of the Temple where important people resided.

Jeremiah 35:3

‘Then I took Jaazaniah the son of Jeremiah, the son of Habazziniah, and his brethren, and all his sons, and the whole house of the Rechabites,’

It is noteworthy in the description of those whom he invited to the house of YHWH that both they and their fathers all have ‘Yah’ in their names. (The mention of a Jeremiah is purely coincidental). We know nothing further about these people, only that they appear to be dedicated to YHWH. ‘Brothers’ and ‘sons’ may be intended literally, or may refer to wider relationships (he would not for example exclude the sons of his brothers) like e.g. ‘sons of the prophets’. The name Jaazaniah was found on a seal discovered at Tel en-Nasbeh from c. 600 AD

Jeremiah 35:4

‘And I brought them into the house of YHWH, into the chamber of the sons of Hanan the son of Igdaliah, the man of God, which was by the chamber of the princes, which was above the chamber of Maaseiah the son of Shallum, the keeper of the threshold.’

Jeremiah here clearly had the use of a chamber in the Temple which was in the possession of a fellow-prophet (a ‘man of God’) called Hanan, demonstrating that not all prophets were to be seen as false at this stage. Hanan was distinguished enough to have his chamber ‘by the chamber of the princes’ (used by the princes when visiting the Temple) and above that of the ‘keeper of the threshold’. The keeper of the threshold was an important post in the Temple. He was not just a doorkeeper but one of three high officials whose responsibility it was to ensure that no unauthorised or unclean persons entered the Temple area (Jeremiah 52:24; 2 Kings 25:18). He thus had high authority. ‘The sons of Hanan’ were probably Hanan’s trainee prophets.

It appears that Jeremiah was trying to give the appearance of bringing together two groups of religious zealots who were in sympathy with him, thus disarming the Rechabites who might otherwise have wondered what he was about.

Jeremiah 35:5

‘And I set before the sons of the house of the Rechabites bowls full of wine, and cups, and I said to them, “Drink you wine.”

Once they were gathered he brought out drinking cups and wine bowls and invited the Rechabites to partake (along presumably with the ‘sons of Hanan’). Note the wider use of ‘sons’ here to signify all the Rechabites. It was a typical prophetic acted out parable for Jeremiah no doubt knew what to expect.

Jeremiah 35:6-7

‘But they said, “We will drink no wine, for Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, commanded us, saying, ‘You shall drink no wine, neither you, nor your sons, for ever, nor shall you build house, nor sow seed, nor plant vineyard, nor have any, but all your days you shall dwell in tents, that you may live many days in the land in which you sojourn.’ ”

The Rechabites stood firm by their convictions. They refused to drink wine on the grounds that their ancestor Jonadab, the son of Rechab, had commanded them to avoid the drinking of wine in perpetuity, along with the avoidance of all the other trappings of civilisation mentioned. They were not to live in houses or involve themselves in the kind of settled life which allowed time for grain to grow and vineyards to flourish. Rather they were to live a healthy life in tents, moving from one place to another, thus living healthy and long lives and surviving for many days. The aim would appear to have been to avoid the temptations of civilisation so that they might remain true to YHWH, copying the life of Israel when they were in the wilderness, and of course following the nomadic life of their own ancestors. The covenant that Jonadab had made may well have been a reaction to the ‘civilisation’ introduced by Jezebel, for they were probably already living in this way in accordance with their own lifestyle. Jonadab seemingly turned it into a ‘virtue’. The fact that Jehu had sought an alliance with Jonadab suggests that in his day the Rechabites were admired by the common people because of their simple way of living which was a reminder of ‘the great days in the wilderness’. (Note how these Kenites were now seen as native-born Israelites)

In fact by living the kind of lifestyle that they did wine would not be as important for them as it would be for people in cities, for they could move camp regularly and could always ensure that they encamped by a pure spring. In contrast those who lived in cities often had to depend on water from cisterns which as it became staler and more fouled was unpleasant to drink to say the least. In such circumstances wine was a more pleasant, and often even a more necessary, alternative. (Compare Paul’s advice to Timothy in Ephesus where the water was notorious for giving people sickness - 1 Timothy 5:23).

Jeremiah 35:8-10

“And we have obeyed the voice of Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, in all that he charged us, to drink no wine all our days, we, our wives, our sons, or our daughters, nor to build houses for us to dwell in, nor have we vineyard, nor field, nor seed, but we have dwelt in tents, and have obeyed, and done according to all that Jonadab our father commanded us.”

They stressed their loyalty to the requirements laid down by their ‘father’ in everything that he had required of them, a loyalty which was carried on in the family tradition. There was no loose living among the Rechabites. They lived disciplined lives and were obedient to the covenant by which they had been bound.

Jeremiah 35:11

“But it came about, when Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon came up into the land, that we said, ‘Come, and let us go to Jerusalem for fear of the army of the Chaldeans, and for fear of the army of the Syrians,’ so we dwell at Jerusalem.”

They were aware, however, that their claim appeared a little incongruous in the light of the fact that they were actually dwelling in houses in Jerusalem, so they pointed out that the only reason why they were living in Jerusalem was because they had sought refuge there from invaders. They wanted Jeremiah to know that the single reason for their presence was their fear of the armies of the Chaldeans and the Aramaeans who were harassing the land of Judah and would simply have gobbled up the Rechabites. Once they had gone the Rechabites would return to their previous way of living.


Verses 1-19

The Rechabites Are Held Up As An Example Of Obedience To Their Father (Jeremiah 35:1-19).

Commencing with the words, ‘The word which came to Jeremiah from YHWH in the days of Jehoiakim,’ the passage demonstrates that YHWH was using the example of the Rechabites as an illustration of the obedience which was the very opposite of Judah’s disobedience, a disobedience which would result in judgment coming on Judah and Jerusalem. The fact that the Rechabites had continually from generation to generation, for over two hundred and fifty years, faithfully followed the requirements of their father concerning their way of life, is contrasted with the way in which God’s supposed people had treated their Father and His requirements for their way of life (see Jeremiah 31:9; Jeremiah 31:20). As in the last passage the idea is once again to bring out their overall disobedience.

The Rechabites were related to the Kenites (1 Chronicles 2:55), a wilderness tribe who had joined up with Israel while they were making their journey from Egypt to Canaan (Judges 1:16; Judges 4:11; Numbers 10:29-32), and in obedience to their tribal father’s requirements they had refused to settle in cities, but had lived in tents and had abstained from all forms of wine and strong liqueur. Nor had they engaged in settled agriculture. Their aim had been to maintain their wilderness traditions and not to become contaminated by ‘civilisation’ and idolatry. Indeed the only reason that they were in Jerusalem at all was because they were seeking refuge there from the invading Babylonians and Aramaeans (Syrians).

As the invasion described here was in the days of Jehoiakim, it could not have been the one occurring during the final days of Judah. It was thus referring to a previous invasion by Nebuchadnezzar when he had specifically called on Aramaean forces. It could have been the invasion of 606/605 BC after Nebuchadnezzar had defeated the Egyptians at Carchemish and Hamath, but more likely it is the one later in the days of Jehoiakim when Jehoiakim had withheld tribute (2 Kings 24:1-2).

The ancestor of the Rechabites, Jonadab, had in the past demonstrated their fierce loyalty to YHWH when he had supported Jehu in destroying all the worshippers of Baal (2 Kings 10:15-27).

As previously in chapters 21-24 events which took place in the reign of Jehoiakim and other kings are here sandwiched between two passages referring to the reign of Zedekiah, the aim being to bring out that the final invasion was the result of, a long period of disobedience which preceded it. Here it brings out that their disobedience, previously reflected, was of a long standing nature.


Verses 12-19

YHWH Uses The Loyalty Of The Rechabites To Their ‘Father’ As A Contrast With The Behaviour Of Judah Towards Their ‘Father’ (Jeremiah 35:12-19).

The Rechabites had proved their loyalty to their ‘father’ (their forefather) by their maintenance of the requirements that he had laid down, and they had done it over a long period of time. This was in total contrast to Judah’s attitude towards YHWH’s requirements. They had rather ignored YHWH’s requirements for a very long time.

Jeremiah 35:12

‘Then the word of YHWH came to Jeremiah, saying,’

Once again the direct word of YHWH came to Jeremiah. YHWH was very much involved in the situation

Jeremiah 35:13

“Thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel, Go, and say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, ‘Will you not receive instruction to listen to my words? The word of YHWH,’ ”

YHWH’s challenge (under His full title) towards the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem was that they had not been willing to receive instruction or to listen to His words, a fact which was to be seen as solemnly declared by the prophetic word of YHWH. In other words they had totally and blatantly ignored His requirements.

Jeremiah 35:14

“The words of Jonadab the son of Rechab, which he commanded his sons, not to drink wine, are carried out, and to this day they drink none, for they obey their father’s commandment, but I have spoken to you, rising up early and speaking, and you have not listened to me.”

And He wanted them to note that this was in total contrast with the Rechabites who had obeyed their father’s commandments to abstain from wine, something which they had observed ‘to this day’. And this in spite of the effort that YHWH had put in to bringing home His word to the men of Judah. They had simply refused to listen. Note the Jeremaic ‘I have spoken to you, rising up early and speaking’.

Jeremiah 35:15

“I have also sent to you all my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, saying, ‘Return you now every man from his evil way, and amend your doings, and do not go after other gods to serve them, and you will dwell in the land which I have given to you and to your fathers, but you have not inclined your ear, nor listened to me.”

Not only so, but He had also put great effort into sending the prophets to them, calling on them to return from their evil ways, to set right their behaviour, and not to go after other gods to worship and serve them. And He had promised that if they would do so He would ensure that they continued to dwell in their own land which He had given to them and their fathers. But they had refused to listen. (Thus annulling their rights in the promises given to the fathers).

Jeremiah 35:16

“Forasmuch as the sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have carried out the commandment of their father which he commanded them, but this people have not listened to me.”

So because the sons of Jonadab had obeyed the commandments of their father, whilst the men of Judah had refused to listen to the commands of their Father, He would reward the one and punish the other.

Jeremiah 35:17

“Therefore thus says YHWH, the God of hosts, the God of Israel, Behold, I will bring on Judah and on all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the evil which I have pronounced against them, because I have spoken to them, but they have not heard, and I have called to them, but they have not answered.”

On Judah and Jerusalem, He, ‘YHWH the God of hosts, the God of Israel’, would bring ‘all the evil which He had pronounced against them’. He would make them desolate through the activities of the Babylonians, by sword and famine and pestilence, (the usual large-scale disasters that they often faced) and would carry them into exile far away. And He would do this because when He had spoken to them they had not heard, and when He had called on them they had not answered.

Jeremiah 35:18-19

‘And Jeremiah said to the house of the Rechabites, “Thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel, because you have obeyed the commandment of Jonadab your father, and kept all his precepts, and done in accordance with all that he commanded you, therefore thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel, Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not want a man to stand before me for ever.”

In contrast to the misery coming on Jerusalem and Judah His promise to the Rechabites was that He would preserve their name and their inheritance. Because they had proved their worth by their obedience to their father’s commandments and precepts, He would ensure their survival so that their group did not die out. There would ever be a ‘son of Jonadab’ to stand before Him. The group would never be wholly wiped out.

See for example in this regard Nehemiah 3:14 where ‘a son of Rechab’ was ruler of a district. Hegesippus also speaks of Rechabites who were priests in the Apostolic age, who stood by sympathising with James our Lord’s brother in his martyrdom. And according to the Mishnah 'the children of Jonadab son of Rechab' had a fixed day in each year for bringing wood for the altar of the temple. Even as late as the 12th century AD Benjamin of Tudela could speak of a group of Jews who were named Rechabites and who were governed by a prince of the house of David.

‘To stand before me’ was a technical term indicating that they would in some way serve YHWH in connection with the Sanctuary. They were to have special privileges.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Jeremiah 35:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/jeremiah-35.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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